Sunday, November 20, 2011

No, Virginia, There Is No God

Here's what gets me.

Every December many newspapers resurrect an 1897 editorial from the old New York Sun in which Francis P. Church answered the famous question from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon.

Perhaps Virginia is grown up enough now to ask a larger, more serious question: "Please tell me the truth: Is there a God?"

Virginia, forgive us. When you were young, adults thought you needed to be protected from your fears, and we believed it would be better if you continued to believe in Santa Claus, when all reason and logic told you there was no jolly old elf.

Remember, we cannot prove a negative hypothesis. We cannot logically prove that something does not exist. So, just as we cannot prove that Santa Claus does not exist, we cannot prove that God does not exist. But just as Santa Claus is a myth created for the comfort and joy of little children to give them hope against a cold, dark Christmas night, perhaps God is another myth created for the comfort of little bands of people to give them courage against a cold, dark unknown world.

No, Virginia, all deductions and reason tell us there is no God. We have grown old and wise enough now that in our hearts we know we can no longer lay the world's blames on someone else. We can recognize the heartbreak and tragedy that occur when something horrible or absurd results from someone acting in the name of God. Let's face reality: Mankind created God in our own image to do our bidding, and surely the world has suffered enough from all the wars and atrocities that have occurred because people believed they alone knew the meaning of God.

Not believe in God? Yes, we do face the danger of losing a reason to be kind and do good without a belief in God. But we can rely on intelligence and common sense in order to be kind and do good, not some ancient commandment on a tablet handed down through a self-proclaimed intermediary. We are no longer frightened savages huddled in caves around a fire, we are no longer children afraid of growing up and needing the comfort of the belief in something larger than ourselves, smarter than ourselves, more grandiose than ourselves.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" makes good sense, no matter who tells us to do it. "Do unto others exactly as they did unto you" is only a short-term correction of bad activity, and it can lead to less intelligent people killing themselves all off so that we are again left with a small band of frightened savages huddled in a cave around a fire, instead of a globe-filled, worldwide band of humanity loving and helping each other for our humanity, still staring at the stars in wonder.

If God does exist, why are there so many different religions and versions of God like so many Santa Clauses at every public mall? Would God be so vain, so human, to watch such widespread pain and suffering that occurs in the name of religion?

Why do some believe only they have the authority to speak for God? Be suspicious of anyone claiming to speak on behalf of God, because that means we are again being treated like children. But we are grown up now, and our parents are dead.

Yes, what about Heaven? Of course death is frightening. After the joy of life, the idea of absolute, spine-chilling, subzero nothing is frightening to us all. But a false hope of an afterlife is as perverse as the false hope of a jolly little man squeezing down our chimneys with good cheer and presents for us all.

And what about angels and that tunnel of light at death? Well, we know how powerful our own imaginations can be, we know how "real" our dreams can be. Perhaps our minds make us dream at the moment of death to help us through that last experience of all, and just as we sometimes dream about something we heard about, read about or actually experienced, our interrupted last dream could be as common as dreams of flying or being naked in a crowd.

No God! Yes, the idea is frightening. It means we are finally responsible for our own actions, our own destiny. But it also means we have that much more responsibility to be kind and to do good while we are here.

I rest my case.

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